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Close up of eaten slice of frosted carrot cake on white plate and background.

Best Carrot Birthday Cake

This is truly a celebration carrot cake, with a very moist crumb and spiced flavor. Filled and frosted with cream cheese, both the cake layers and the frosting can be made ahead. Whether you bake it in layers, cupcakes, a tube pan, or loaf pans, it's a certain crowd-pleaser.

  • Total Time: 55 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

Units

For the carrot cake:

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice or nutmeg
  • Pinch of ground cloves
  • 1 1/2 cups (330g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup of white, granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups peeled, grated or shredded carrots, about 6oz (see Notes below)
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and finely chopped or coarsely grated (see Notes below)

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 1 cup (8oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup (110g) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 cups powdered sugar (or more if needed)
  • Whole and chopped pecans and grated orange peel, for decoration

Instructions

For the carrot cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF/180°C.
  2. Butter and flour (or use baking spray) two 9-inch springform pans (cake pans with removable bottoms). I sometimes use three 7-inch pans. Make certain that the round cake pans fit in your oven and can be baked at the same time.
  3. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl and reserve. Or have everything measured and sift them directly over the butter mixture as you add them. 
  4. Beat the butter for 30 seconds in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer or in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
  5. Gradually add both sugars beating continuously for 3 or 4 minutes, until light and fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. Add vanilla and mix.
  8. Add the sifted dry ingredients (flour mixture) in 3 additions, alternating with the milk (the wet ingredients) in 2 additions. Beat on low speed until it's all well incorporated but do not over mix. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times so you make sure it's all mixed. 
  9. Add the grated or shredded carrot and apple and mix just until combined. I use a rubber spatula for this step. Make sure there is no flour or other ingredient that has pooled in the bottom of the bowl. The final batter is smooth and almost slippery. 
  10. Pour batter into the prepared cake pans, smooth the top, and bake for about 4o minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. It might take more or less depending on the pan size you use.
  11. Let cool completely on a wire rack and then remove.

For the cream cheese frosting:

  1. Beat cream cheese and butter in a medium bowl until very smooth and no lumps remain.
  2. Add 3 cups powdered sugar, ½ cup at a time, and beat until smooth. Check after each addition to see if it's as thick as you want. You might end up using more or less than the amount specified.

To assemble:

  1. Have the 2 cake layers completely cooled down. You can make them a day ahead and keep them refrigerated, well covered in plastic wrap.
  2. Put the first layer on the cake stand or serving platter, and fill with about a cup of cream cheese frosting. If making the nut maple variation, a handful of coarsely chopped pecans or walnuts, and a big drizzle of maple syrup.
  3. Place the second layer on top and gently press down. Repeat with the frosting.
  4. Frost the top of the cake with the remaining cream cheese frosting and also the sides. I use a medium offset spatula. Make a swirl on top and decorate with 8 pecans or walnuts, one for each slice you'll be serving. In the center add chopped pecans or walnuts and some grated orange peel.
  5. Serve with maple syrup if you want, no matter what variation of cake you make.

Notes

Organization: always read the recipe first and make sure you have all the ingredients, at the right temperatures, and also the rest of the equipment and space to make it. This will make the process so much easier!

Baking time: keep in mind that all ovens and pans are different, even if they look the same or very similar. The baking time in my recipes is as accurate as it can be, but it might take you more or less time. You can use a thermometer that is placed inside the oven (like the OXO oven thermometer) to check that your oven is at the right temperature. I recommend you keep track of how your oven works and what tiny details you might need to adjust. 

Carrots - you can peel them or not. And I recommend grating them with a large-holed grater and at the last moment. That way they retain the moisture better and don't become soggy.

Apple - I use Granny Smith (green ones) usually, but any baking apple works well. I like it finely chopped by hand or grated with a large-holed grater. Apples start to turn brown pretty quickly after you peel and grate them, so you can drizzle a little lemon juice over them to prevent this. I don't generally. 

Spices - my favorite combination is cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice, but I know a lot of people like cloves. So adjust to your preference or to what you have available. 

Storing - keep the layers refrigerated for up to a week, or frozen for a month, well wrapped of course. It's always a good idea to fill and frost layers that are cold. It's easier and there's less chance of the cake falling or breaking. Assembled cake: keep in the refrigerator, well covered.

  • Author: Paula Montenegro
  • Prep Time: 20
  • Cook Time: 35
  • Category: Cakes
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: carrot layer cake, carrot birthday cake